Monday, 24 July 2017

From Chester to Llandudno

The only positive aspect of having to be at home between 0800-1300 whilst awaiting a Sky engineer (or more likely a BT engineer on behalf of Sky,) is that I finally have some time to write something. It’s been a busy few weeks as I took part in a week long mission to Chester, moved house immediately on my return and then headed off again for another mission in Llandudno, North Wales. Both open-air missions were with United Beach Missions (UBM) under the sub-category Christian Answers.

Having been involved in a mission to London with the Open Air Mission recently, I thought I knew what to expect. However, I’m quickly learning that these teams are far from predictable due to the range of characters that turn up and form them.

In Chester we had a children’s entertainer who managed to keep us amused during our down-time and a potter who used his skill to share his testimony whilst making pots on the wheel. The Christian town crier was a definite bonus although it is sad that people are more interested in history and culture than in God. Also in our team was a young female convert from Islam which proved especially useful when a man attempted to dismiss Christianity on the basis that we had all been brainwashed by the religion we had been brought up to believe.

It did seem that God was leading the right members of our team to the specific people they could relate to. One man’s comment that he believed in science rather than religion was swiftly rebutted by our cook for the week. It turned out that her day-job was in the exact same, extremely narrow, scientific field as our friend with the strong opinions.

My most profitable conversation appeared to be with a girl in her twenties who had stopped to listen to one of the messages for a few seconds. She became quite emotional when I approached her and then confided that she had just bought a Bible having been wandering from God for a number of years. She had arrived in Chester pretty randomly having never been to the city before and was only alone because a friend had decided not to accompany her. Recognising that God was at work we spent several hours chatting over coffee discovering that our life stories were very similar. Later, having made a decision to recommit her life to God, she was put in touch with Christians in her area.

The men’s Gospel presentations were pretty varied ranging from the simple Bible verse, to philosophical arguments, to interactive discussions about where famous people should be placed on a “Goodness Scale.” My favourite for the week was entitled “What’s your end of life strategy?” The preacher highlights the fact that people buy car or house insurance without even knowing that they will crash or that their house will be burgled. Yet many make little or no preparation for death despite knowing with 100% certainty that they will die.

In Chester, we faced the usual range of reactions; people too busy shopping or heading to the races to pay much attention, people annoyed by our presence and people wanting to argue or debate. There were also some odd cults around, some had a leaflet with a list of items that they think should be included in “Satan’s Tool Box.” After reading the list which included Disney films, Christmas and the NIV Bible, I could totally understand why people think that anyone standing in the streets in the name of religion must be at least slightly mad.

Moving on to Llandudno, the team was smaller and the environment different due to it technically being the start of the beach missions for the summer, although the children had yet to break up from school. We started each day with a Bible study in James which had been faithfully prepared, and was well delivered, by our team leader who doubles as a Pastor.

Then, we were instructed to head down to the promenade in twos and engage people in Gospel conversations without props. This aspect of evangelism, that most people find extremely awkward, became even more difficult when local rules meant that we could no longer use leaflets as a conversation opener. We had to hook the fish without the bait.

Imagine the scene: an elderly couple on holiday, sitting on a bench, admiring the sea-view, are suddenly aware that they are sitting in the shadow of two comparatively young people. These people are introducing themselves, something about a mission of some sort, then asking them what they think about God! Not really something to be discussed with random strangers whilst relaxing on holiday…..especially not young ones with no life experience.

Thankfully, not all our conversations headed in this direction and we did have some profitable ones. I think we were all grateful, though, to see the presentation board up so that the focal point could be moved away from us in our clumsiness and inadequacy. I had to keep reminding myself that God uses us in our weakness so that He can get the glory.

The evenings were devoted to community hymn singing interspersed with preaching and testimonies. I was amazed by the number of non-believers willing to sing about what Jesus has done without acknowledging that He has done it for them. We met a fair number of church-goers who on closer acquaintance, sadly, were not yet saved. Most of these were willing to take leaflets and one lady said that she had a lot of thinking to do as a result of our discussion.

Only God ultimately knows the hearts that will be moved, but we had a long chat with an elderly couple one evening. The youngest member of our team, at sixteen, and I, had initially met them during our “cold calling” session earlier in the day. We were thrilled when they turned up for the singing that evening. The husband had devoted his whole life to religious activity and the wife was suffering as a result of his absence. Yet, the dear man admitted that he wasn’t fully able to trust the promises of Jesus for himself although he desperately wanted to. He pointed to a line in the famous hymn “To God be the Glory,” recognising that he was a vile sinner in God’s eyes but being unable to get beyond that. We spent a lot of time with this couple and I pray that their eyes may have been fully opened and their hearts awakened to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

I also spoke to a number of Roman Catholics including a couple from Malta. Then, I was forced to exercise my rusty Tagalog in a lengthy chat with a lonely Filipino lady having been summonsed by a fellow team member. I don’t know how much she actually understood as Filipinos tend to be extremely polite to foreigners!

Being involved in open-air work, apathy and indifference are definitely my biggest frustration. People seem to be gambling on the assumption that if they don’t think about something it won’t happen to them. Many have not even considered where they will go when they die, and others refuse to believe in an afterlife when God has made it plain to them both in their hearts and through creation that He exists.

Others are relying on safety in numbers. This means that a cultural trend away from God sweeps people along the broad path to Hell with little or no thought that the people surrounding them might also be in peril. The sheep following each other off a cliff analogy is relevant here or even the old computer game of Lemmings. I don’t intend to make light of this, it is tragic.

You might be wondering why we even bother with open-air evangelism in these days of such apathy and indifference. Isn’t forcing our beliefs on other people arrogant and intolerant? There is a simple reason, God gives us a clear command to tell people the truth before it is too late. Even if there had been no clear direction, could any of us that really believe the Bible’s teachings on the afterlife stand idly by and watch others heading to a place of eternal torment and unimaginable suffering?

Besides, for every ten or so people that reject the message, ignore us or get angry, there is one that shows a flicker of interest or accepts a Gospel leaflet. Then, there is the one in fifty or a hundred who is willing to stop and have a conversation, however brief it might be.

Some of the conversations lasted hours as people wrestled with God having been confronted with some uncomfortable truths. The results of these weeks may not be known until eternity, but we were encouraged when we heard that at least one person had returned a Chester leaflet having ticked all of the boxes on the back,( I have become a Christian, please send me more information etc….)

I enjoyed both missions and am looking forward to further opportunities in London with UBM in August, then Oxford, Manchester and Lincoln later in the year with OAM. Please remember to pray for the work or consider joining a team! If you are a Christian and are interested in getting involved for a week here and there or even just a few days then I’m happy to give you further details or you can visit the website for United Beach Missions.

 “The Gospel is only good news if it gets there in time”   Carl Henry

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